Government advisor Henry Dimbleby has blamed the recent fruit and vegetable shortages in supermarkets on a “weird supermarket culture”.
In a recent statement given to The Guardian, Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of restaurant chain Leon and food strategy advisor for the UK Government, branded recent fruit and vegetable shortages as a “market failure”, blaming Britain’s “weird supermarket culture”.
New Food recently reported that numerous supermarkets have been limiting their sales of various fruit and vegetables as a result of import shortages from Spain and North Africa.
Now, Dimbleby has told The Guardian that other countries in Europe are not having to face the same problems as the UK as they do not have the same “cultural problems”.
“There’s just this weird supermarket culture. A weird competitive dynamic that’s emerged in the UK, and nowhere else in the world has it, and I don’t know why that is,” Dimbleby told The Guardian.
While the shortages themselves caused a stir on social media, the UK’s Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, also generated widespread conversation with a comment about consumers turning to home-grown produce, such as turnips, to navigate empty supermarket shelves.
However, the turnip comments have been labelled “frustrating” by Dimbleby, as he thinks that Brits are concerned about Coffey’s words instead of “structural issues in the food system”.
Dimbleby told The Guardian: “I find it quite frustrating that everyone is suddenly worried about a gap of vegetables in February, when there are much bigger structural issues that need to resolve, and definitely the government on health has very explicitly gone backwards.”
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Predicting that the “market failure” is “going to get worse”, Dimbleby also defined the UK food system as “unique”, explaining that he doesn’t know “another system where the supermarkets have these fixed-price contracts with suppliers”.
“So, basically, you have no effective market. It’s a very difficult one for the government to solve, but it does need to be resolved,” said Dimbleby.
The fruit and vegetable shortages in supermarkets are currently on-going, however, in a statement, Coffey predicted that they “will be a temporary issue that should be resolved in two to four weeks”. However, with Dimbleby stating that the shortages are part of a wider “market failure”, it could take numerous adjustments to get shelves reliably restocked.
Commenting on Dimbleby’s statement, Chris Elliott, Professor of Food Safety and Microbiology at Queen’s University Belfast, noted that “we have come to rely very heavily on supermarkets to secure our food in the UK.
“While the pandemic showed us how well they could do this the stresses and strains continue to mount on the global food system and we need to take a much more holistic view of food security in the UK going forward.
“We need all actors in the food supply system (both private sector and government) to come together and really start to generate a policy fit for purpose,” concluded Elliott.